Ministry & Service

“Discipleship Lifestyle”

A sermon by

The Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Nagel

Sunday, August 13, 2017


TEXT:    Acts 2:37-47

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

            Being a follower of Jesus was never meant to be a solo endeavor.  From the beginning, Jesus gave a mandate to his disciples collectively.  Matthew 28:18-20 records Jesus’ words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  Jesus gives the WHAT of the mission to the disciples as a group.  All of you, individually and collectively, are to be about the business of making disciples.         


Luke gives the HOW of the mission in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  This mission of proclaiming, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching is to be fueled by Jesus’ continued presence with the disciples.  It is not a promise to individuals.  The promise of the Holy Spirit is to the Church.  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”  Mission without power and resources can only result in a failed mission.  Mission in the power of the Holy Spirit brings results Jesus intended.


            Luke also records the results post-Pentecost.  The disciples wait in Jerusalem as Jesus told them.  They were all together.  The sound of a mighty rushing wind filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Tongues, as of fire appeared on each of their heads.  They began to speak in other languages as the Holy Spirit gave them utterance.  A crowd gathered.  They were Jews from many nations gathered for the Feast of Pentecost.  Consternation, amazement, and awe filled the area outside the room where the disciples gathered.  No matter what the disciples were speaking, each foreign visitor heard these simple, Galilean Jews telling the story of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection in their own languages.


            They heard about Jesus in the way they could best understand it and their lives were changed.


            This is the prelude of Pentecost.


Now Peter, the same frightened Peter who denied Jesus three times before the crucifixion, rises to address the crowd.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit, he preaches a dynamic summary of Gospel, buttressing his statements and claims with Scriptures from the Old Testament.


            Those who heard were moved.  Those who were moved repented.  Those who repented believed.  Those who believed were baptized.  Those baptized experienced the reality of Jesus living in them and among them. 


They received the Holy Spirit.


            Now we see the results.  Three thousand are baptized.  In this instant, the Church is born.  These new converts wanted to know more about this Jesus.  What did he teach?  What did he say?  What was he like?  What did he do?  What were his miracles? 


            The apostles were faced with a huge challenge.  These new converts demanded a lot from them.  Teach us.


            The Church quickly became a LEARNING COMMUNITY.  “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  They had to because the new disciples had much to learn.  The same is true today.  People need to know more about Jesus.  What did he teach?  What did he say?  What was he like?  What did he do?  What were his miracles? 


            These new converts had the advantage of people who knew Jesus, walked with Jesus, and heard Jesus.  They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching.  There was an urgency about everything that they did.  Jesus had promised to return. They didn’t know when, but they were taught and believed that it could be soon.


            Then it happened.  The first Apostle died.  James, the son of Zebedee, was stoned to death.  What if the apostles all died before Jesus returned?  Their teaching was written down.  The Gospel message began to be recorded based on the testimony of eye-witnesses and collections of Jesus’ sayings and teachings.  The history of the early church and the spread of the Gospel is recorded by Luke.  The Apostle Paul writes letters to encourage early churches in Thessalonica, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Rome.  He writes letters to individuals, to Timothy and Philemon.


            These are the Scriptures we study today to learn about Jesus.  We are still a learning community.  A disciple is a learner.  We learn best when we read, study, and grow together.


            The Christian faith is caught.  The Christian faith is also taught.  One generation teaches another.  Older followers help to instruct and develop younger disciples.  Mature believers challenge and guide less mature believers.  That is the way it has always been.

            The Apostle Paul wrote to his spiritual son Timothy, “You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to reach others as well.”  (2 Timothy 2:1-2)


            What we receive, we pass on.  What we learn, we teach.


We stand in an unbroken chain that goes back to Pentecost.  The Church is a learning community.  Are you learning?  If you are not learning, are you teaching someone else? 


We should regularly challenge the status quo at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church to go beyond merely being the church, and merely playing church to becoming and being an effective church of disciples who make other disciples.  Here is a quote from C.S. Lewis.  “The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs.  If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.  God became man for no other purpose.”  Here is another quote from Dallas Willard, “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”




We must learn and challenge each other into learning and growing into what it means to be dedicated disciples of Jesus.


            But wait, there’s more!


            The Church quickly became a FELLOWSHIP community.  “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  The word here is a word we know as part of our Christian vocabulary.  It is the word koinonia.  We normally translate that word as “fellowship” but its meaning is broader, deeper, stronger, and more profound than we have allowed ourselves to appreciate.  We talk about “fellowship dinners” or “fellowship groups” or a “fellowship time” after a worship service.  We take that to mean eating or coffee and snacks.  It’s a get-together.  It’s a gathering of people.  Those people do not have to be believers. 


            NO!!!  Christian fellowship is categorically different!


            The word koinonia finds its root in the Greek word koine.  Biblical Greek is called koine Greek because the word koine means “common or shared.”  Koine Greek is “common” Greek, a shared language.   Koinonos is a “common partner” or “one who shares in the common interest.”


            Note what that fellowship looked like.  “All who believed were together. . .”  They shared common life.  They spent time with one another.  They knew each other’s needs.  They ate together.  They traded stories with each other.  They gave their personal impressions of their encounters with Jesus.  They shared each other’s lives.  Jesus stood in their midst.  Had it not been for Jesus, they would have had nothing in common.  “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”


            When I was in seminary, one of my professors called the early church one of the only examples of successful communism in the history of humankind.  He stated that it was successful because it was voluntary and was based on the love the early disciples had for God and for one another.  They didn’t share everything in common.  However, when any in the community had need, believers would sell what they did not need to provide for those who had need.


            By the fourth century, the Christian churches in Rome were feeding and estimated 20,000 poor each week.  The Christians presented a stark alternative to the prevailing social order where the poor died of hunger and unwanted babies were left on the sides of mountains to die.


Another of my professors was Father Georges Florovsky, a Russian Orthodox Professor of Church History.  You could always recognize Father Florovsky.  He dressed in a black cassock and had a gray beard that reached nearly to his belt.  In his book, "Empire and Desert: Antinomies of Christian History," Dr. Florovsky has written, “Christianity entered human history as a new social order or, rather, a new social dimension. From the very beginning, Christianity was not primarily a ‘doctrine,’ but exactly a ‘community.’ There was not only a ‘message’ to be proclaimed and delivered and ‘Good News’ to be declared, but there was, precisely, a New Community, distinct and peculiar, in the process of growth and formation, to which members were called and recruited.  Indeed, ‘fellowship’ (‘koinonia’) was the basic category of Christian existence.”


Fellowship in the church was the norm.  Common life was expected.  All of life was shared.  Needs were addressed in community.  Sacrifices were made when necessary.  People experienced the love of God through the actions of believers.


Based on the first century model, Church isn’t something to which you “go” or an organization to which you “belong.”  Church is something you ­are by being a disciple and believer.  When you leave this place you do not leave the church.  When you leave this place, you are the church, representing Christ in the world.


The Church is a WORSHIPING Community.


“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread . . .”


The term ‘breaking of bread’ is significant here.  It can mean the simple act of eating together.  In fact, Luke records that they did.  They would be found in the temple.  Then they would return to their homes and “. . . they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts . . .”  However, there is more here than meets the eye.


Remember that Luke is the author of the Book of Acts.  He ends the Gospel of Luke with these words, ‘. . . and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Luke 24:53) However, if you back up a few verses to the story of the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus, you find these words, “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:35)


The breaking of the bread is Christian code.  Early Christians worshiped, taught, and learned in the Temple precincts.  However, the central sacrament of Christian believers took place in their homes beyond the view of the Jews who were trying to stamp out this new sect and its teachings about Jesus.  Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ?  The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17) He is referring to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. 

The word “sharing” in this passage is the word koinonia yet again.  We eat from the same loaf.  We share in the same bottle of juice that was poured into the cup.  As that same bread and cup are assimilated into our individual bodies, we are mystically being united in one body.  We all share in Christ.


Communion, the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup, is central to what it means to be a Christian believer.  Jesus teaches his disciples in John 6:53-56, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.  Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”


Pretty straightforward!  Breaking of the bread is a sign of the Church.


Many of you, I’m sure, have read the book Tortured for Christ.  The book was written by Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian Christian pastor of Jewish descent. 


Richard Wurmbrand was a man who knew he had nothing. The Romanian prisoner of conscience had an indelible experience with nothing in a solitary cell deep in the cement bowels of a Communist prison in Bucharest.


 Over the weary months of his fourteen-year captivity, he and several other Christians worked out a system of communication through tapping on a sewer pipe that connected their dark, tiny cells.


 As the weeks went by, the men longed to share a Communion service together.  But they had nothing.  No church building.  No music.  No bread.  No wine.  How do you have Communion with nothing?


 "But wait," one of his fellow prisoners tapped to Wurmbrand. "Nothing has to be something or -- you wouldn't have it.  And consider ... God hung the world on nothing!  It has to be the strongest substance in the world.  Stronger than steel. Stronger than diamonds.  And my brothers -- we possess it!"


So with nothing in their hands, they broke bread.  With nothing on their lips, they sipped from the cup.  With reverent taps on a rusty sewer pipe, they worshipped the Giver of everything.


In his later years, Wurmbrand would remember many communions.  But none sweeter, none richer, than the one with nothing at all. (Discipleship Journal # 61)


 Fortunately, most Christians have access to the bread and the cup.  The breaking of bread is a mark of the early Church.  It is a mark of the Church everywhere.  The Lord’s Supper is not an accessory to worship.  It is not an add-on.  The Lord’s Supper is central to what it means to be the Church.  Like the disciples in the early Church, worship together is central, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.”


Lastly, the Church is a PRAYING community.


“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”


Disciples have always prayed together.  They have prayed for each other.  They have prayed that others would receive the Gospel and follow Jesus too.  Prayer is part of the DNA of the Christian church.

Unfortunately, this is one of the marks of the Church that is sadly lacking today.  We focus on service.  We forget prayer.  Yet, prayer is the vital, dynamic channel through which the Holy Spirit operates.  What is today’s Church missing out on because prayer goes underused and unexplored?


The early Church was totally vulnerable.  They had a message the world desperately needed but was totally opposed to hearing.  The Jewish leaders hunted and opposed them.  The Roman Empire sought to exterminate those who would not bow the knee to the state.


Not much has changed.


What did change was the world.  It changed because the Church prayed.  God’s Spirit, through God’s people, renewed the face of the earth.


It can happen again.  It can start here.


I love the quote from Adoniram Judson Gordon.  He said, “You can do more than pray after you have prayed but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.”

            He is so right.  Soli Deo Gloria.  To God alone be the glory. 




Grace Covenant Presbyterian of Gloucester has adopted the motto of

“To Know Christ, To Make Christ Known.”  


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